Early last week I received a call from a man in Wilkes Barre, Pa., who was very upset when he looked out from his office across to the Luzerne County Courthouse lawn and saw that for the first time in years there was no Nativity scene or menorah display.
Turns out, according to The Citizens Voice, the local newspaper, the displays were taken down Dec. 16 after several weeks of county officials attempting to work with the American Civil Liberties Union, which said the display was not allowed under the Constitution. People protested — despite 27-degree weather and a 14-degree windchill. There was more negotiating, the paper reported, and the display was put back Dec. 22 with some additions — Santa Claus, candy canes and a Kwanzaa greeting.
According to a recent statement from the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, “the courts have made it clear that the display of religious symbols in a municipal building, or on a courthouse lawn, must be accompanied by secular symbols.” But it added that in a public forum like a park or a place where musicians and artists gather at various times during the year, “the government cannot prohibit the display of privately funded religious symbols, even if they are not accompanied by secular ones.”
The league pays to put up a life-size creche for two weeks in Central Park. Behind it is what is described as the world’s largest menorah.
According to a 2008 Rasmussen poll, 74 percent of American adults think religious displays should be allowed on public property. Only 17 percent disagree. And those who are afraid that the nation as a whole has lost the true meaning of Christmas might be heartened to know the same poll showed that 64 percent of Americans celebrated Christmas last year as a religious holiday honoring the birth of Christ.